Brief History of Methodist Centenary Church, Dublin
In 1750, a plot of land on Whitefriar Street was obtained on a 99-year lease, and in 1752 the building of a Methodist Church was completed, with a membership of 420. This was only 140 more than had been gathered at John Wesley's first visit to Dublin in 1747.
The building was a remarkable one. It was an epitome of Wesley's view of what a church should be - a centre of worship and evangelism set in the context of solid commitment to the needs of old and young. The interior was simple in the extreme. The seats were plain benches without backs for the most part. Men sat on one side and women on the other side of a central aisle. The same division applied also to the galleries.
It was assumed that the 99-year ground lease would be renewed in due course and that the premises would continue to serve for many years afterwards. But the assumption was shattered. When the church applied for a renewal of the lease it was discovered that the landlord had already leased the ground to another group of people. From about 1842 Methodists knew that the end was near.
Methodism celebrated the centenary of the conversion of John and Charles Wesley in 1839 with immense enthusiasm and generosity. In Britain and Ireland a sum of £220,000 was raised - perhaps £80 million in year 2000 terms. It was to be used for outreach both at home and abroad, and in Ireland £5000 was allocated to build a new "Centenary church".
A great revival preceded the building of the Centenary Church. In 1841 the visit and mission of James Caughey led to an increase of 370 in one year. In the same year a site on St. Stephens Green was purchased, not leased, for £1700. The building was completed and opened in June 1843. It may be said at once that the transition from Whitefriar Street to St Stephen's Green was not an easy one. Whitefriar Street continued to be used for about six years after the Centenary was built. Nostalgia for the old vied with pride in the new.
Some other factors affected the Centenary. In 1846-7 the potato famine caused emigration even from Dublin. About the same time there was a movement in the whole Methodist Church, especially in Britain, against what was seen as a growing undemocratic clerical centralisation of power, and overall 100,000 in UK numbers were lost. In the Centenary membership dropped from 607 in 1846 to 320 in 1855.
Rev. W. B. Lumley, writing in 1893 and 1943, gave account of a church at peace with itself, warm and friendly, deeply and very generously committed to overseas missions, a church enlivened by the attendance of the Methodist girl and boy boarders from Wesley College next door.
On Sunday 22nd December 1968, Church members arriving for a morning carol service were greeted by a charred ruin of smoking embers, the church having been destroyed by fire the night before, a shock which many still remember vividly. It was a sad company which made its way to Wesley College Chapel next door.
Wesley College Memorial Chapel became a much loved place of worship, and the base from which the congregation sought to find the right way forward into the future.
In 1972 conversations opened with Christ Church, Leeson Park. With the money from the fire insurance and the sale of the site on St. Stephen's Green, it was possible to build there a suite of buildings which could be useful for activities and outreach of the church itself and as amenities for others who might need them. This area was opened in 1977 and was named Wesley House. The money also provided another outreach in the purchase and maintenance of a manse for a full-time chaplain to students, which was a main objective in the Centenary scheme. This chaplain's manse is now used as a student residence.
From the late seventies the Church of Ireland congregation shared Christ Church with the Methodist Centenary congregation. There were two services most Sunday mornings, one Church of Ireland and one Methodist, but once a month there was a single united service when the two congregations joined together for worship. Here, for nearly thirty years, the church maintained a warm and caring fellowship in a beautiful place of worship for a congregation scattered throughout south Dublin, including a significant number of third level students.
By 2005 the Church of Ireland had decided to reduce its commitment to Christ Church due to very small congregation numbers. It became apparent that Christ Church would no longer be available for use by the Methodist congregation. Alternative arrangements were sought and after discussions the Litton Hall (part of Wesley House) was renovated to make it fit for a worship centre. The congregation moved its Sunday Morning worship to the new church premises during the Summer of 2005.
Although this move was a large upset for the congregation, it has proven to be very worthwhile and beneficial. Many feel it has given Methodist Centenary a new feeling of community and sense of self.
Adapted from "Our Road To The Millennium" by Rev. A. Desmond Gilliland
John Wesley's Arrival in Ireland
On the 9th August, 1747, John Wesley sailed up Dublin's River Liffey after a 26 hour voyage across the sixty miles from Holyhead, in Wales. It was the first of twenty-one visits. Altogether he spent six and a half years in Ireland.
His host was William Lunell, a respected banker and cloth merchant. He was a Huguenot but also a member of the infant Methodist Society being developed by the Rev. Thomas Williams.
Wesley arrived on a Sunday morning and preached that afternoon at Evensong in St Mark's Church where he found "as gay and senseless a congregation as ever I saw."
Next day he rode out ten miles to meet with Archbishop Cobbe who had made serious objections to the Methodists preaching in any churches under his care or even in the open air. He considered them to be un-trained for the work. Wesley argued that they were as surely called to preach as either of them. The Archbishop did not agree.
The first Methodist place of Worship was in a former Lutheran Church at Marlborough Street. Later, a church book shop, widows' home, school and ministers' residence was built at Whitefriar Street.
Soon great persecution began. The apprentices to the weaving trade in the Liberties of Dublin led the riots. When Methodism reached Cork, the persecution continued. "No man is fit to be a preacher here who is not prepared to die at any moment" wrote Thomas Williams to Wesley.
Still, Wesley persevered. "Have patience with Ireland and she will repay you," he declared. Time has proved him right. A small Methodist community has provided two large secondary schools, a national school, an agricultural college, a theological college, a number of housing colonies for the elderly and a nursing home for older people who need 24-hour nursing care. The work continues.